16 July 2015

One: On unpaid leave [Spaces of Artful Living]

So I’ve been on a sort of unpaid leave from work since the beginning of June. My initial plan was to take six months off work about two and a half years ago, and I almost succeeded. I quit my job, withdrew all my compensation money and some savings. I had finished writing my novel, Haifa Fragments, and was in the process of searching for a publishing house. I had worked for six years as a fundraiser and development coordinator at Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, and felt it was time to move on. Fundraising is a very demanding job, with tight deadlines to meet, and entails quite a lot of stress. I wanted something different. And I wanted time to focus on the publication of my novel and on my writing. I also felt I needed change in my life. But then, as soon as I quit my job, I was approached by another organization with a job offer. I accepted it for several reasons, but I think the main reason was that it was not the right time for me to take a break from life then. I just wasn’t ready.

Now, more than two years later, I have finally done it. The reasons now are completely different, but I feel that now is the right time. Meanwhile, my novel was published by the Australian-based feminism publisher Spinifex Press, with UK rights sold to New Internationalist, as well as translation rights to Italian and Turkish. The novel came out exactly on my 40th birthday, 8 March 2015. A month later, I made the decision. The beginning of 2015 brought with it not only the excitement of finally making my dream come true – becoming a published author, but also some personal crises. I was working a full-time position, taking care of my disabled mother three times a week, and basically leading a crazy schedule. In January and February, two health-related crises of two immediate family members put me completely off my track. (I won’t go into details, for the privacy of these family members). Both were unexpected, and both required from me immense energies. That’s when I finally realized that now was that time to take an unpaid leave. I needed to make space in my life to care for the two family members, to stop and breathe, and also to plunge into my writing on a much more intensive and deeper level.

So here I am, a month and a half later, with practically no income, and a mistress of my time. In May, for preparation, I made a list of things I would do while on this vacation. June came and went, and we are in mid-July, and I can’t remember where the list is, and can’t remember most of the items on it. What I do remember is on that list: finish the first draft of Taboos in Arabic, my second novel, by the end of December. And write one short story a month. And one non-fiction, political commentary a week to post on my blog. Write every single day. Spend at least 3-4 hours writing every day. Re-establish my running routine, start doing yoga. Quit smoking and stop drinking coffee and eat healthy. I was full of energies, ready to embark on this writing journey.

However, things didn’t follow according to my plan. Because when one makes such a drastic change in life, your mind, body, and soul will react. They need the time to process this new reality, and all kinds of processes are set in place. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I have. And quite a lot, but not every day, and not as much as I set out to write.

Today I decided to officially document the process I’m undergoing. What I mean by officially is to take this from a different angle; to see this writing as documentation, to make the documentation itself a writing project. I’ve been writing about what I’m going through on a regular basis in my notebook, the traditional way: pen on paper. This is the first time I’m actually typing up words that would usually go into my journal. And why this change? I’m almost going insane with my notebooks. I’ve got five (yes, five!) different kinds of notebooks for different writings.

- One large, A4 notebook for scenes of manuscript and ideas to develop (I always start first rough drafts on paper, and then type them op from notebook to computer).
- One small, spiral notebook that’s always with me when I leave the house.
- One notebook for “practice writing” (I hate practice writing, will come back to this later).
- One notebook that is my journal (by journal I mean a notebook where I document the processes I go through with my writing).
- At any given time I have at least one more notebook, usually a smaller one, for miscellaneous.

Neat categorization, right? And quite logical. This way, I know which notebook to refer to when I need to retrieve some idea or another. So why am I going insane? Because the mind doesn’t work in such neat categories. At least not mine. I find myself writing in my “practice writing” notebook just to warm up to getting some real writing done, and I find myself mulling over the process of writing, or, if I get lucky, I come up with an idea to develop in my novel. Then the problem arises: should I switch notebooks? It can also happen when I’m writing in my journal, thinking about the progress of the manuscript, trying to figure out why the characters aren’t moving in the direction I want them to. And then an idea strikes me and I find myself writing up possible scenes, or writing notes to myself. In short, this categorization – this artificial division – isn’t working anymore. It’s come to the point where it’s actually blocking my flow of creativity. So I said to myself screw the notebooks for now, and decided to try a different tactic, and type things up. Let’s see how it goes from here.

For now, I don’t know what shape this documentation will take. I have no plans for it beyond writing it through, hopefully on a daily basis, to accompany me through the writing of “Taboos in Arabic,” my second novel, my attempts at short stories, and my attempts at living a different life. I invite you into my journey of writing and living - on unpaid leave - with no guarantees except for uncertainty and processes. 

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